How to Deliver Holiday Magic on a Budget

Posted on December 20, 2016

A little holiday creativity makes your budget stretch further.


We’ve all been there—getting caught up in the holiday spirit and going way over budget. Overspending can make January a cruel month of catch-up, but this year can be different.

The secret to delivering holiday magic while staying on budget? Cover the basics and get creative.

Make a List. Check It Twice. Budgeting basics are simple, yet vitally important. First up: Set a total dollar amount you feel comfortable spending over the holidays. Factor in everything, including gifts, travel, entertainment, decorations, food and other holiday expenses.

Next, make a list of everyone you intend to buy for—family members, BFFs, co-workers, teachers, etc., and set an amount for each person that adds up to your total gifting budget.

Ready to make it all work without breaking the bank? Here are five creative ways to stay on track:

1. White Elephant Is the Way to Go White elephant or secret Santa exchanges are a genius way to give thoughtful gifts, while limiting the cost and number of presents bought. Be sure to set a price limit to keep the exchanges fair and consider setting a theme, like “for the home” or “throwback gifts.” Draw names ahead of time or play a game where everyone ends up with a gift at the end.

Gift exchanges are perfect for extended families and circles of friends. You can even host an exchange with out-of-town friends and family via video chat using Skype or Facetime. Nobody gets left out. Laughter rules. And, because everyone agrees on the spending amount per gift, there is the opportunity to bake that cost into a holiday budget. Less stuff and more fun is always a win-win during the holidays.

2. Artificial Intelligence, Real Savings This holiday use tech to your budgeting advantage. Artificial intelligence (AI), like the Capital One Skill for Amazon Alexa, makes it easy for you to track your spending. It’s so easy you can wrap gifts or bake cookies as Alexa does the math. Just ask, “Alexa, how much did I spend at Amazon last month?” or “Alexa, how much did I spend at Starbucks last week?”

App-y Holidays

A free mobile app means you don’t have to spend money to save it. A must-have: CreditWise. Be master of your credit score domain. It helps you monitor your credit score, and alerts you when it changes.

3. If You DIY, DIY in Bulk Adding a personal touch is a great way to show people how much they mean to you, but crafty can get pricey. If you go the DIY route, be smart by doing it in bulk.

Buy a small flat of succulents and give work friends easy-to-care-for potted plants. They’ll outlast the holidays, while helping you stay under budget.

Spending a few hours baking treats for extended family members and friends is another low-cost way of spreading holiday cheer. Whether you serve them on a platter, wrap them as individual gifts or bring them as party favors, a little something sweet never disappoints.

4. Add a Closet Swap to Your Social Calendar Last year, you stunned everyone at the holiday party, but wearing the same outfit this year is as faux pas as it gets.

To pull off another red-carpet look without paying red-carpet prices, consider a closet swap with your BFFs and/or work friends so everyone can look their best without blowing budgets. Put it all in play—dresses, bags, jewelry, accessories—and let the fun begin. A closet swap gives you that new-outfit confidence without the price tag.

5. Get a Jump on Next Year Next year’s holiday budgeting starts now. As soon as the 26th rolls around, retailers slash prices, sometimes up to 75% off. Stock up on everything from holiday cards and decorations to wrapping paper and unique “stocking stuffers” you can use next season and throughout the year.

Remember to stay focused on what you need for next year, not just what’s on sale.

Enjoy a More Prosperous New Year When you set a holiday budget and stick to it, you’ll be off to a more stress-free start to the new year. Use these creative tips to delight your friends and family, while spending responsibly. And set yourself up for success leading into the next holiday season by saving for or purchasing gifts throughout the year—instead of in one lump sum next December.

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Colleen Krieger, Senior Manager, Brand
Colleen Krieger is Senior Manager of Digital Brand Strategy at Capital One.

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Unless noted otherwise, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor is it endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are the ownership of their respective owners. This blog is © 2016 Capital One.